Will the Supreme Court's Lex­mark de­ci­sion change the dig­i­tal print­ing equip­ment busi­ness?

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Industry Insight - ▶ Spe­cial to News & Tech FROM Jochen Meis­ner meiss­ner @con­sysTech­nol­ogy.com

On March 30 the Supreme Court over­turned a pre­vi­ous patent win for Lex­mark and ruled that once a patented item has been sold once, the patent is “ex­hausted” and can no longer be en­forced.

Print­ers, be­ing used to buy­ing con­sum­ables for their off­set equip­ment in­de­pen­dent of the equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, have al­ways balked at the idea of be­ing tied to one man­u­fac­turer for ink. With inkjet ink ex­ceed­ing the cost of a good French or Cal­i­for­nian bot­tle of wine, it is cer­tainly un­der­stand­able that com­pa­nies are look­ing for the low­est cost sup­plier. How­ever, the idea of los­ing your war­ranty if you get caught us­ing cheaper ink has been an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent and chip-coded car­tridges have not made it easy to live out­side the rules.

Of course, we also know that for a process as com­pli­cated as print­ing (dig­i­tal, off­set or any other vari­ant) to work well, con­trol of the en­vi­ron­ment is key. How many com­plaints about print qual­ity have been re­duced to pa­per qual­ity, ink tack or other con­sum­able pa­ram­e­ters and how of­ten has an in­fe­rior third party spare part with the same ge­om­e­try (spe­cial grease filled bear­ings come to mind) been found to be the cause of an equip­ment break­down?

So, there are clearly two sides to the is­sue. But with this rul­ing, print­ers are now free to wan­der off the reser­va­tion of their HP or Ko­dak ap­proved sup­plies and the days of a busi­ness con­cept based on “life­time mar­gin,” giv­ing away the equip­ment and gen­er­at­ing the mar­gin on the rev­enue stream of sup­plies, are prob­a­bly over.

Dig­i­tal print­ing equip­ment is now be­ing treated just as other print­ing ma­chin­ery has been treated for­ever. Chief Jus­tice John Roberts used the auto in­dus­try as an ex­am­ple where man­u­fac­tur­ers can­not con­trol what peo­ple can do with a prod­uct after the sale.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if some­body will chal­lenge the closed “eco sys­tems” like Ap­ple's down the road.

Jochen Meiss­ner has worked in the print­ing equip­ment in­dus­try since 1983. A strong tech­ni­cal back­ground, good busi­ness sense and the abil­ity to build re­la­tion­ships across cul­tures have helped him lead an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion in chal­leng­ing eco­nomic times. Most re­cently, he served as pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Goss In­ter­na­tional Cor­po­ra­tion.

Jochen Meiss­ner cur­rently serves as a board mem­ber and ad­vi­sor and ac­cepts se­lected ad­vi­sory, con­sult­ing and man­age­ment as­sign­ments.

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